BY ALICIA DUNKLEY-WILLIS Observer senior staff reporter email@example.com
COMMISSIONER of the Independent Commission of Investigations (INDECOM) Terrence Williams has dismissed claims that its agents have been disarming police officers involved in controversial shootings with civilians at the crime scene, leaving the lawmen at risk.
The matter was raised yesterday by Chairman of the Jamaica Police Federation, Sgt Raymond Wilson during a submission to the Joint Select Committee of Parliament charged with reviewing the INDECOM Act. According to Wilson, officers were "concerned about their personal safety, as sometimes they are immediately disarmed on the crime scene by INDECOM investigators".
He cited the example of an incident on Saturday, October 12 this year when a team of Island Special Constabulary Force (ISCF) members were on patrol along Jacques Road in the Kingston Eastern Division when they were confronted by a group of gunmen who injured a member of the police party. During that incident, one of the gunmen was shot and killed and a firearm was recovered. Wilson told the committee that the "INDECOM team ,which was quick on the scene, immediately disarmed all members of the party to include those who did not fire their weapons".
"This was done without due consideration for officers' safety," he charged.
This statement led to National Security Minister Peter Bunting making a call for clarity in what he said has been conflicting statements from the various parties in such matters.
"There is a contradiction between what I keep hearing from the police and the military and what I keep hearing from (INDECOM) as it affects this matter of disarming policemen at the scene. I gather that there is now a protocol with the military that they are not disarmed at the scene but that they return as soon as possible to the base and it's handled there, but that in the case of police officers they are disarmed at the scene. Can we clear it up?" Bunting said.
The INDECOM commissioner then sought to have the matter cleared up.
"We investigated a case earlier this year where it was discovered in the investigation that whilst the weapon was in the custody of the police, parts of the weapons were switched, which mis-directed the ballistics investigator as regards to who fired the fatal shot. We realised then that there needed to be proper boxing and sealing of weapons to prevent parts of weapons being switched in the future and also to ensure the weapons are properly swabbed and you don't have many hands touching the weapons," he told the committee.
He said the directions to provide for boxing and sealing were then revised and a meeting held with the head of the constabulary's Technical Services Division. Correspondence on the change was also sent to Commissioner of Police Owen Ellington who wrote back to indicate that the police would comply with the procedures.
According to Commissioner Williams, Wilson's information was incorrect.
"The procedure is not that they are disarmed at the scene, they are disarmed at the police station, they are disarmed by their own police officers; we provide the boxes, the weapons are put in boxes, they are sealed both by us and the police. The weapons are returned to the investigating officer in the police force who then organises for them to go to the laboratory where we meet them and the seal is broken in both our presence," he explained.
"Regarding the incident at Jacques Road, it is incorrect to say it was at the scene. In the report it was said the men were left without weapons; they were disarmed by the police at Elletson Road and the weapons were boxed there. The Elletson Road station, it was said, did not have sufficient weapons for them and arrangements were made for them to get them from another station but they decided they wouldn't wait for the weapons to get there [so] they would go to collect them. That was all a police matter... it is not an INDECOM matter," Williams contended.